Jesus' Kid Brother
Also see Sharon's review of Baby with the Bathwater
The musical is set in a sort of anachronistic Biblical time period - everyone gets coffee at "Star (of David) bucks" and Pontius Pilate regularly crucifies telemarketers. Grounding the show in this non-existent time does more than just give writers Brian and Mark Karmelich fodder for silly jokes, it serves the more important purpose of distancing the show from its Biblical roots. Jesus' crucifixion is not generally considered a laugh riot, but the Karmelich brothers manage to take the story far enough away from realism that the audience has full permission to not take any of it seriously. Paradoxically, the show also retains a core of respect for the Gospels - at times, Jesus' Kid Brother flirts with the profane, but he never actually dives head-first into it. That the show's plot allows itself to get a laugh by the mere suggestion of something wholly sacrilegious, but then backs away into safer ground, is the real marvel of the script.
The score is adequate with the occasional burst of brilliance. The music, played live by a five-member band, is varied and ranges from serious ballads to the "Free Barabbas Polka" and everything in between. The lyrics are the sticking point here - most rhymes are one-syllable and the lines frequently have additional words thrown in just to make the meter work. That said, though, they are sufficient. The lyrics are generally funny and are able to move the plot along; they just aren't interesting or intelligent enough overall to stand up to multiple listens. Some songs could, such as the adorable "Galilee's Finest Men," in which three young women harmonize like the Andrews Sisters to a swingin' number about how great it is to be in love with an Apostle.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with particularly strong performances from David Brouwer as the likeable lead, Amir Talai as an overprotective father who also happens to be Pontius Pilate (Talai also has way too much fun when he doubles as Judas), Rana Davis as Pilate's other daughter who can't seem to get a break, and Christopher Dean Briant as Larry's best friend Barabbas. Briant ventures dangerously close to overplaying the comic sidekick bit, but when he screws up his face into a purposely corny expression and starts an equally corny (thanks to choreographer Brian Paul Mendoza) dance number, there's no way to not give in and disappear into a puddle of giggles.
Briant's comedic work is illustrative of why Jesus' Kid Brother ultimately works - everyone is giving one hundred percent. The cast has an astonishing amount of energy and they put forward the material, even at its cheesiest, with unabashed commitment. The concept of a dance sequence featuring half-naked Roman bath house guards (wearing nothing but towels and helmets) walks the line between stupid and silly, but this cast sells it so convincingly, it's a winning piece of comedy.
The show, in the 99-seat Hudson Mainstage Theatre, is highly amplified, with each actor wearing an individual mike with the sound sent through speakers that seem to mix the entire experience into a single track. The result is a little disconcerting - you might be sitting ten feet away from the actors, but in an ensemble number, you have absolutely no idea who is singing what line, because all the sound comes from the same place. Partial compensation is made by having a spotlight hit whoever is singing, but there's still a fundamental disconnect between the audience and the performers, because it doesn't feel like any of these people are actually singing. This is probably the only way to deal with a live, loud band in this small house, but it would almost be preferable to have the band prerecorded so the singers could sound more live.
That's a small problem, though, and one that would surely be overcome if the show moves to a bigger house, which it very well might. Jesus' Kid Brother isn't the second coming, but it's a damn funny night at the theatre.
Jesus' Kid Brother runs Thursdays thru Sundays at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre through November 23, 2003. For reservations, call (323) 856-4200, extension 29. Visit www.jesuskidbrother.com for more information.
TriOmino Productions, in association with Elephant Stageworks, presents Jesus' Kid Brother. Music, Lyrics, and Book by Brian and Mark Karmelich. Directed by Jules Aaron; Produced for Elephant Stageworks by Don Cesario. Choreography by Brian Paul Mendoza; Music Direction & Arrangements by Brian Murphy; Set Design by Don Gruber; Light Design by J. Kent Inasy; Costume Design by Shon LeBlanc; Sound Design by Philip G. Allen & Leon Rothenberg; Production Stage Manager Marie Turcotte; Press Representative Patty Onagan; Casting by Michael Donovan, CSA.
Photo by Eric Sabroff